One day, four of us were sitting around in Khon Kaen (Thailand) when we decided to take a day trip across the border into Laos. I’d never been to Laos before, plus I needed to renew my visa, so I figured “why not”.
Laos (also spelt “Lao”) is officially referred to as the “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”. Laos is located along the side of the Mekong river. The country is bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west.
So we jumped in the car and headed north to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is the nearest Thai town to the Laos capital – Vientiane. It’s about 22 kilometres from Nong Khai to Vientiane. From Nong Khai you can enter Laos via the Thai/Laos Friendship Bridge.
When we arrived at the border (the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge), we were told that we couldn’t take our car across the border. This is because it was a hire car. So we had to take a bus across the Thai/Lao Friendship Bridge (20 baht), then hire another bus/minivan once we arrived in Lao.
To enter Laos, we needed to get a tourist visa on arrival. So it was the usual process of getting stamped out of Thailand by the Thai immigration, then applying (and paying $35 USD) for a visa before entering Laos via Laos immigration. The visa fee is different depending on your nationality. Also, you have the option of paying in Thai baht. However, if you choose to pay in Thai baht, you will pay a lot more due to the Laos immigration’s practice of using a really bad exchange rate (or really good exchange rate, depending on whether you’re Lao immigration or the tourist!).
We hired a van and the guide took us to Vientiane and back to the border at a cost of about 1200 THB. The rain started falling as soon we got in the the bus. The driver was hell-bent on taking us to a bunch of duty-free shops. Obviously he gets a kick-back from any purchases that we make. We told him we weren’t interested and wouldn’t be buying anything. Said he understood but if we could just go in anyway and then he’d show us the temple we wanted to see. So two of us walked in then turned around and walked out again. Our driver was bamboozled as to why we didn’t buy anything. So we continued on our way. We were then informed that the temple that we wanted to check out closes before 12 noon every day. We found out later that the temple is open from 8am to 5pm every day…
Anyway we managed to pick up some dried buffalo skin for cheap so all was not lost. Many Laotians and some Thais find them delicious!
We ended up back in Nong Khai eating dinner alongside the Mekong river.
So in a nutshell, we drove several hours from Khon Kaen to Nong Khai, hopped over the border, viewed Laos from the inside of a minivan, then within a couple of hours, hopped back over Thailand. If you like to waste your money on nothing in particular, you should try this too!
Mind you, I did get another 15 days on my tourist visa when I re-entered Thailand so from that perspective, mission accomplished.
The above trip was in 2011. Fortunately I’ve been back to Vientiane several times since then and loved it.